Email design at its best at TEDC16

At the end of July, we headed to The Email Design Conference (TEDC16) for some geeky, email marketing and developer fun. The two days were jam-packed with talks, learning forums and plenty of discussions with fellow email geeks about email design, email best practices, top tips and some very exciting new features. It was the first of this kind of conference for me, so I was excited to meet people in the industry and see how it was all gonna pan out. Check out#LitmusLive to see how it unfolded in real-time.

So for a quick overview before I get started, The Email Design Conference is run by Litmus — specialists in email testing and email analytics. The conference is a fantastic opportunity for email design specialists, email marketing specialists, developers and other email geeks to get together, share ideas, learn from each other and look at what leaders in the field are doing at the moment.

1. Transform your email strategy with design leadership

Andrea Mignolo from Moveable Ink showed us that when a company embraces good design, it can permeate not only the product but the entire customer and subscriber experience. Achieving this however needs effective design leadership. Design leadership isn’t just about deciding how an email looks or which template to use, there’s a lot more to it and those who excel as design leaders are those that remember emailing your customers should be considered a privilege. Convey your organisation’s intent and ethics behind your email strategy and be sure about a few of these things before you start:

  • What’s your vision? What do you want to achieve from this email strategy and where do you want to be once the campaign is complete?
  • What’s your strategy? Conduct and audit of your current email strategy and activity and see where the gaps are. What’s needed?
  • Collaborate with others. Even if it’s your responsibility, you’ll be surprised at how helpful other members of your team can be when it comes to feedback or ideas.
  • Be aligned. Remember your initial vision and make sure that fits in with your overall strategy and organisation goals.
  • Be patient. It’s easy to think that you can set up your email strategy, hit go and start seeing results, it does take a bit of time, but believe us, the rewards will be worth the wait.

2. A user-centred framework for email success

If you don’t measure the impact you won’t make an impact! Catalin Bridinel of emphasised the importance of measuring subscriber activity. At, their email marketing strategy is not driven by endless streams of data, but by how each campaign performs. They ensure their emails add value for their subscribers and keep them at the top of their game. Catalin shared a few valuable insights to consider when drafting your next campaign:

  • Make sure the email is relevant
  • Make it personal
  • Always be engaging, you want your customers to interact with your communications
  • Be clear about what the customer is getting from each email
  • Offer inspiration, this one is hard to measure but helps maintain subscribers

Once you’ve got these elements covered, it’s time to start designing that email. Remember, capturing your customers’ attention in such a crowded marketing space is the first step to success, so here are a few key human responses to take into consideration when trying to achieve that:

  1. Attention: have a think about what email you open first out of your crazy long list of emails in your inbox. You usually base that decision on the subject and the preview header. Make them count and stand out from the rest with enticing headlines
  2. Interest: once a customer has opened your email, you have roughly 2–3 seconds to grab their interest. Offer rewards, aspiration or encourage FOMO (fear of missing out!)
  3. Desire: similar to interest, this covers one of our basic human needs. For example, if you’re listing out a ‘Top 10 of…’, just cover the first 2 in the email and encourage them to click through to read more
  4. Action: this is where the engagement really comes in, you’ve caught your customer’s attention and now you want to draw them in. Use urgency and words that encourage fast decision making ‘Act now or miss out on…!’

3. Simple things that make a big difference

Head of Marketing, Jonno Cox, at The Learning People in Brighton UK explained that the aggression of marginal gains is a great way to make improvements over time. It can often be overwhelming to consider all the different elements that should be looked at within an email marketing strategy, however, by tackling small parts, one at a time, improvements could be seen across all campaigns. Here are the ones that stood out most for me:

  • Think about the inbox: remember to test out different inboxes, how does your email appear across different email providers?
  • Pre-header text: This can be thought of as more advertising space, tell your customers what the email includes while they’re deciding whether to open your email or not.
  • Accessibility: Everyone needs to be able to open, see and engage with your emails so remember to always consider the design and flow of your email as being easy to follow — check fonts and font sizes and always find out if it looks good on mobile.
  • Background images: If you’re using these, remember to make sure the text is readable over the top of the image on desktop and on mobile, use the images to tell a story and make sure they are well supported so all your readers can enjoy them. To help email load time, Jonno recommended using a tool like ‘ImageOptim‘ to help compress your images.
  • People tips: Forge an emotional connection, it’s known that smiles convert, so think about the reader and what interests them when you’re drafting your email content and design.
  • Calls to action: Place a call to action on every page fold and don’t go overboard with design as this can draw away from where you want your customer’s eyes. Top tip! Stay clear of ‘click here’ as a call to action, use wording that informs the customer about what they will experience when they click.
  • The journey: Consistency is key, so don’t let the landing page differ from the email too much. Use enough text to keep the reader interested, but not too much that they don’t click through. Keep the same font and branding throughout and across communications and ensure your colours stay consistent.
  • Forms and fields: if you’re using forms to capture information from your guests and customers, make sure the forms are always fully expanded, contain 3–5 fields max and the calls to action are strong and clear. This makes sure you’re customers stay engaged and don’t drop off the page.

4. International opt-in, consent and legal requirements

Rosa Hafezi, a Lawyer from Certified Senders Alliance gave a fantastic overview of international opt-in and legal requirements. She spoke about a great deal of legislation and some great examples which was too much to cover in this recap post but I’ll definitely post another more in-depth overview in the future.

  • Last year 190,000 people complained about receiving emails they didn’t want — nearly all of them were justified
  • 60% of emails sent are considered to be SPAM
  • If you do not comply there can be high legal costs and your reputation with ISPs will be affected
  • DO NOT buy email lists, it’s always safer to acquire your subscribers by consented opt-ins. If you do purchase a list, each email address should be checked to confirm whether they are valid opt-ins. If not, it is your responsibility once you have sent an email to them
  • If sending to international recipients, it is always worth following the guidance from the strictest jurisdiction to ensure compliance. The EU have some of the highest standards to follow — specifically Germany — so if in doubt, do as the Germans do!

5. Practical tips for A/B testing (without in-house researchers)

Stacy Picking from The Climate Reality Project had some great tips on A/B testing and how to manage it in-house without the assistance of researchers. Here were her best practices:

  • Be systematic: take a solid approach and try and test an outcome orientated research question. Do some background research on the area to help form your hypothesis. Experiment and share your results
  • Identify and prioritise your goals: look at the big picture first and then determine how to test and define goals
  • Know your baselines: you’ll always need something to start from
  • Get buy in: determine what is urgent vs important, there often can be a big difference

Once these have been set in stone, you are ready to start testing:

  1. Identify your measures — list them out and identify right at the start
  2. Randomly assign — ensure differences are seen in your data, you don’t want similarities in populations to affect the results
  3. Wait for results — run test for 40 hrs or so to ensure all the data has come in
  4. Use a targeted treatment — look at one element at a time e.g. long vs short headers, header images, different layouts, different messages
  5. Document everything — track tests as they happen
  6. Replicate — don’t be afraid to run your test again
  7. Learn from your tests — it’s ok if there is no change, that’s a good thing to learn about your audience if you were expecting there to be one and remember to follow-through with your learnings. Put them into practice!

6. Automating the customer journey

This is another part of the day that I will cover in more detail very soon but Martin McKenna from iZettle shared a great deal of insight on how their company had effectively implemented a solid automation strategy. As a teaser, below are few points that Martin shared with us for when it comes to getting started with an email automation strategy:

  • Invest in a dedicated team who can take ownership of managing this stream of communication
  • Invest in data analytics, whether that is using a business information tool, CRM or internal team members, this is an important one
  • Work closely with customer support — listen to what your guests are saying and shape a communication strategy around that and not just what you think might work
  • Create a strategy that is all in the name of growth — use cutting edge HTML to enhance the visual experience and track data from as early on in the guest journey as you can


Overall, TEDC16 was a huge success, we met and developed great relationships with fellow email design geeks and really walked away from the conference fired up about what exciting opportunities there are coming our way in email design and how much can be achieved. So remember, keep these handy top tips to hand when you’re thinking about your next email campaign, email design or even email test! The opportunities are endless.